On July 20, 2019 I wrote about Josh Harris, “he has grave doubts about the truth of Christianity and he is intent on starting a podcast to share those doubts with the world.” Some of his defenders, ignoring the point of the essay, seized on this comment and disputed the fairly clear implication of Harris’ words. I spent a fair bit of time going back and forth with some of those critics of my argument. One of my discussion partners argued that Harris only meant to say that he is leaving behind the legalistic Christianity in which was raised, not Christianity itself. I replied, in part, “time will tell.” That was on the 22nd of this month. Today, just four days later, we have our answer (see below). On his Instagram account, Harris has announced that he and his wife are no longer merely separated but that, in fact, they are divorcing.
Further, Harris writes,
The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.
This is tragic for Harris (obviously), for his family, and for those who were affected by his ministry.
Jesus Does Not Fall Away
The first thing to say is: Harris is not Jesus. He is not the Savior. He was, perhaps, for a time, a frail instrument mysteriously used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish some good things. He was also, by his own implicit admission, unqualified to be doing that work. Jesus you should trust. Everyone else pays cash, as the saying goes.
Here is a place where Reformed Christianity is distinct from American evangelicalism (post-1720). We are not focused on personalities. We are not Donatists. We do not believe that the validity of the gospel rests upon the sanctity or even the regenerate state of the minister. They fall. They sin. Sometimes ministers fall away from the faith or show themselves to be impenitent and no longer to be regarded as ministers (e.g., TullianTchvidjian, Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, C. J. Mahaney, Rob Bell, Tony Jones). When this happened in the ancient church, Augustine rightly argued that the validity of the baptism administered by ministers who later fell from the faith (under persecution) did not rest on their sanctification or their personal qualities.
This is particularly important in this context because American evangelicals are very oriented toward personalities rather than to the Word of God as confessed by the churches. Christ’s lambs who perhaps came to faith or were nurtured in irregular congregations (e.g., Harris’) or who were affected for good by one of those men who has shown himself to be a false shepherd should know that Jesus is “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Heb 13:20). Peter also calls him “the Great Shepherd” (1 Pet 5:4). Keep trusting him. He will not let you down. He will never fall away. He will keep you to the end. Jesus said:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they willnever perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27–30; ESV)
If Harris belongs to Jesus, then the Good Shepherd will leave the 99 to go and get this wandering one. If you believe in Jesus it is because God the Spirit gave you new life (John 3:1-11). God the Spirit found you before you found him. He will not lose you.
Find A Real Church
In response to the “Time to Kiss New Calvinism Goodbye” essay someone wrote to say that made them feel as if they did not attend a real church. I am sorry for their suffering but they understood my intent. They may not be attending a real church. Not every person who calls himself a pastor, who starts a congregation, is a pastor and not every such congregation is a church. I understand that sounds un-American and in some important ways it is. The church is not an expression of the USA. It is an embassy of the the King of Kings. It transcends the USA and every other nation. It comes from heaven.
Jesus established his church and he established a ministry. There are marks of a minister and there are marks of a church. The Reformed churches had to sort out these sorts of questions when they were in the process of reforming the the deeply corrupt late-medieval Western church. Then, when Rome showed herself to be no longer part of the true church (by condemning the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone) the crisis became even more intense. At the same time the Anabaptist radicals were also calling the gospel into question, as well as the two natures of Christ, and the validity of the baptism which Christians had received for the previous 1500 years.
The Reformed churches confess
We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church—for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.” We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.” The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks:
- The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;
- It makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;
- It practices church discipline for correcting faults.
In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church— and no one ought to be separated from it. As for those who are of the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left,
and they crucify the flesh and its works. Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him. As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry. These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.
So, when I say, find a real church I mean find a church where the gospel is purely preached, the sacraments are purely administered, and where there is church discipline. Who will place Josh Harris under discipline for his apostasy from Christ? Which congregation is responsible to God for his soul? Where is the presbytery that is supervising his life and ministry? A true church has these things. In a true church the ministry does not begin or end with one man. In such a church the minister is truly accountable to other ministers and to elders for his life, conduct, and teaching.
Pray For Harris
Some respondents to the earlier essay complained that I did not call for prayer for Harris. Well I am now. There is not a great deal that any of us can do now but pray. The God who spoke everything into existence and who granted new life to you and to me is quite able to change Harris’ heart, to grant him repentance and faith. We should pray that he will do so.
It is worth reading what Harris says. This is what apostasy looks like. There are lots of words but the core of the message is clear: he rejects Jesus as God the Son incarnate and the only Mediator between God and man. This places Harris in the most grave jeopardy. May the Lord have mercy on him.
My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.
I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in-between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have also been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)
The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.
Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. I have lived in repentance for the past several years—repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few. But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.
To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
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